"You know you're going to go," Hannah told him, looking at him over the top of her spectacles.
"Neville," she said, warning in her voice. She was giving him that Look, the one that set off the bells in his head. It meant she thought he was being deliberately obtuse. Even though he wasn't.
"It's just such a to-do," he said, because she seemed to be talking about traveling.
"Just Floo in for the weekend, see what they have to offer. I know you don't believe me, but I really do think it would make a nice retirement for us."
Neville nodding warily, catching up to the conversation his wife had been having.
"You don't want to come with?" She gave him another Look, this one better than the first. This one made him smile because it said 'oh hell no' and didn't promise trouble without the perfect reaction. He smiled at her.
So, Neville Longbottom, Professor of Herbology at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, booked himself an International Floo Pass for the weekend and packed a bag. He promised to bring Hannah back something kitschy for the formal sitting room.
The island would've made a perfect honeymoon spot. It was warm, beautiful. The sea was perfectly picturesque. There was a cliff at one end of the island, beaches most everywhere else. The town was mostly Muggle with a dash of Wizarding, which would've been ideal for their honeymoon since that had been back when the war was fresh on everybody's mind and their week in Cornwall had been buggered by a few photographers from Witch Weekly.
There were trees, walking paths, and a lovely little bed and breakfast just two doors down from the pub. He made a mental note to see if Hannah wanted to spend their anniversary on the island.
But he was there for business. Hogwarts' main supplier of potions and potions ingredients (besides the potions and ingredients created at the castle itself, of course), Prince & Co., was going out of business. Or retiring. Or maybe they'd died. Nobody was really sure what, exactly, had happened. A tidy little announcement had arrived with the usual fall shipment, thanking Hogwarts for its business and informing "whom it may concern" that there would be no further supplies from Prince & Co. He'd only found out about the sale through the grapevine.
"Professor Longbottom, hello," the Prince & Co. representative said. "I'm Henry Gladwell."
"Hello, Mr. Gladwell."
"I must ask, what's your interest with Prince & Co.?"
"I'm looking for a retirement project."
"Retirement?" Mr. Gladwell laughed a salesman's laugh and launched into a sort of sales pitch, expounding on the joys of island life more than the pros and cons of taking on a business venture late in life. Neville had just turned one hundred, after all.
One hundred years wasn't particularly old for a wizard, but it was old enough that he could feel the Scottish winters in his bones the way he hadn't when even a decade before. And all those years bent low over the plants were catching up to him, not that retiring and taking on an apothecary-grade ingredients garden would involve any less bending or digging. Hannah would like the warmer spot, though. And he could do raised beds for the plants…
"When will we view the property?" Neville asked. He might've been interrupting Gladwell's patter, but he didn't really care about the quality of the English-style fish and chips at the pub down the way.
"Almost there, Professor," Gladwell said with a too-big smile. He was quiet for the rest of the walk.
They arrived at the top of the cliff on the one side of the island. Prince & Co. was housed in a single cottage. The garden was expansive. There was a greenhouse attached to the cottage, a squat chimney coming out of the center. The cottage was round; it reminded him of Hagrid's old hut before it had burned down during the war. Had that been at the end of sixth year, or during the Battle of Hogwarts? He couldn't remember anymore.
Gladwell started telling him the details about the place. Fully-functioning kitchen, bedrooms, one bathroom, a potions laboratory in the basement with tested-and-true wards around it, the connecting greenhouse. He had a list of all the plants that were growing in the garden and greenhouse, but he didn't know the state of any of them. How many seasons since the Feathery Bluebell had last molted? Did the Fire-breathing Snapdragons have any allergies? Could the Venomous Tentacula be milked before the teeth were removed? Had the marigolds been planted because there was a dashbug problem or because the gardener was nostalgic?
"May I see the garden?" he asked Gladwell, cutting off what was probably a very interesting tangent about how recently the weatherproofing spells had been updated on the roof.
"Oh. Actually, the current owner is working—"
"Professor, you can't—"
But Neville ignored him, walking around the cottage and through the garden gate. He hadn't much cared about what people said he could or couldn't do since he'd hit eighty. Being an old man had perks.
"Hello," he said amiably. There was a young woman in dirty coveralls and sturdy boots standing near the greenhouse putting on dragonhide gloves. She was perfect for the place, tan from the island sun, properly filthy, and with her wand in a pocket shared with a trowel.
"You're the professor, then?" she asked. She reminded him of Pomona Sprout in the best ways.
"Neville Longbottom," he said, nodding in answer to her question.
"Anastasia," she said, giving him a searching look. "You going to buy it?"
"I'd like to know why it's for sale," he said honestly. She smirked at him. A nice, honest smile refreshingly dissimilar to Gladwell's smarmy grin.
"I've worked here for the past seven years," she said, getting the last button through its hole on her glove and turning her full attention to him. She was medium height, athletic build, brown eyes, brown hair, tan. Her accent was Greek, but he couldn't tell if she was local or not. "I barely know the ins-and-outs of this place."
"What do you mean?"
"Professor—" Gladwell tried to interrupt, but Anastasia ignored the salesman.
"I got here, and they were very old. Jonathan and Gabrielle Prince. I don't know their story, nobody really does."
"Actually—" Gladwell started again, but she shot him a look.
"Henry, you know perfectly well those are just the rumors." She frowned at the man and turned to the Tangle Vine next to her, beginning to tame it onto its trellis. "I actually knew them. The story isn't necessarily the truth."
"I'd like to hear it anyway," Neville said in that gentle prompting tone of voice that worked so well on his students. It worked on these two, too.
"They've been here since the beginning of time," Gladwell said in a mocking storyteller voice.
"For longer that I've been alive, anyway," she said, shooting Gladwell another look. "At least eighty years."
"She was an angel, the only thing that could lure him away from his garden or cauldron," Gladwell said as if she hadn't said anything.
"Actually, she was the gardener," Anastasia said. "Everything done by hand, too. That's why the ingredients sell so well."
"They're worth it," Neville said, nodding. He'd noticed that, not only in the plants he'd seen from the shipments but upon entering the garden. The whole aura of the place, the green loamy smell of happy plants. Fingers had tilled the soil; plants had been held by magical hands.
"She gardened. He harvested ingredients and did the brewing. They never even had to talk about it; they just knew when the other needed something done. It was amazing."
"You keep using the past tense," Neville observed.
"They're buried right over there," she said, gesturing with the tip of her wand. She'd tamed the Tangle Vine onto its trellis (the gloves needed to keep the sticky, slightly acidic sap on the vine off her skin) and moved on to watering the adult mandrakes in their overlarge pots with Aguamenti.
"When did they die?"
"Last year. I tried to keep up with the place, the orders, but I can't. I'm just one person, and I'm better with the potions than the plants."
"I thought you were the gardener?" Neville looked to Gladwell, who was frowning at the graves.
"Oh, no. Jonathan brought me in to do the brewing when his hands started shaking too badly to dice evenly. I only came out here after she…"
"No. She just stopped."
"He was much older than her. He died, and two days later, she… stopped."
"They were married?" He'd seen it happen before. When his mother had died, his father had stopped eating, stopped sleeping. Even though he couldn't remember her, even though he hadn't been properly himself for decades, he'd known. He'd stopped living. He'd let himself die.
She just shrugged. Gladwell was glaring at Anastasia with a look as clear as one of Hannah's—he didn't think it was any of Neville's business.
"You still see them sometimes, actually."
"Really," Gladwell said, scowling fiercely at her.
"Not ghosts, just shades. She used to go on walks. He'd follow her. People in town say it's because she was crazy when they got here; he used to chase her out into the sea and drag her back so that she wouldn't drown."
"I've lived here my whole life," Gladwell interrupted. "That's not what happened!"
"What did happen, Mr. Gladwell?" Neville asked, using that professor's voice again. Gladwell scowled, but then he started talking, still using that storyteller voice but dropping the mocking edge of it.
"Before any of us were born, they came to the cottage on the cliff. They were sad. They were missing pieces.
"The cottage was missing pieces, too; nobody had lived there in a long time, since before even our grandparents were born. The windows whistled in the wind, and they could hear the door slam during storms even down the hill in town.
"Then they came. They saw him in town a few times, buying groceries at the Muggle shop. He was tall and pale and ugly. But he was kind. He didn't say a word, but they knew he was kind because he took care of her. After he fixed the windows and the door, she was the one they could hear. She screamed her way through nightmares every night. Sometimes, they saw her walk along the beach, and he would follow her to make sure she found her way home.
"He took care of her, he bought her things from town, he helped her seed the garden. He bought her books and he built her the greenhouse. She didn't scream at night anymore, and the cottage on the cliff was quieter.
"And in the end, when they'd been here for longer than a lifetime and they'd filled those missing pieces in while they were building the garden and the greenhouse and fixing the whistling windows and the slamming door, they disappeared. My cousin told me he can see them hiding in the cliff face, but I think he just likes the notion of it. They went away the way they came—on a breeze in the night."
"That's a nice story," Neville said, because it was. Even if it was a bit sad.
"Well," Anastasia said, rolling her eyes, "it's just a story. I was here. I was the one who had to call the Aurors in the morning when I showed up for work and one and then the other was dead."
And that stole all the romance right out of it, Neville thought, already deciding to keep that bit back when he told Hannah about it all.
It took him two years, but Neville eventually made it back to the island and the cottage on the cliff. He'd bought into Prince & Co. so that Anastasia could keep it going; he'd bought the property, paid the taxes so that she could use the revenue from sales to hire help. He taught for the rest of the school year and then the year after that when the headmaster couldn't find a replacement. Hannah had wanted another Christmas at the pub anyway; she liked the snow and the merriment of it all.
They moved in, settling into the smaller space, deciding where this trinket or that portrait would go. There were still boxes around the living areas, and they'd had dinner down in the pub because neither had felt up to cooking after the hectic day. Hannah had fallen asleep the instant her head touched the pillow. Neville was restless.
The graves at the edge of the cliff faced England. Like the pair buried there might sit up at any moment and look homeward. If England was their home. He'd just assumed it was, though he didn't know why.
It had taken awhile—a dozen people and three separate visits to the island—but he'd eventually gotten what he considered to be the full story on the Princes and the cottage.
The couple had arrived just before the new millennium. In England, that had been the end of the war, the end of Neville's time as a student at Hogwarts. The town couldn't agree if the pair of them had been romantic or not (even Anastasia couldn't say for sure), but they did have the same surname and they definitely hadn't been siblings.
Neither of them had been particularly well. It had been plain to the whole town that the cottage and the solitude was a refuge. It had been years before Prince & Co. had come about, the therapeutic hobby of the gardening and the brewing turning into a business. In the beginning, they'd just been up there at the top of the cliff, a silent spot on an otherwise bustling tropical paradise. Gabrielle had taken walks, and Jonathan had followed her—the people he'd talked to told him it was because he didn't want her to hurt herself, intentionally or otherwise. She had had nightmares, like Gladwell had mentioned, but so had he. The town hadn't known about the nightmares because of screams in the night; they'd known because of the magical distress broadcast so clearly even at the distance.
Time had softened things. For awhile, Gabrielle had been the one following Jonathan when he took walks. And then they'd just been taking walks together. And then they'd walked to the town together, and while they hadn't really spoken to anybody they had always had a polite word for whoever sold them their groceries.
Prince & Co. had begun, and the hobbies had gained purpose. Later, Anastasia had been hired, and she'd brought real stories to the town. Jonathan's sarcastic sense of humor, Gabrielle's strange stretches of silence.
He'd died in the night, and she'd done the same. She'd died the night before his funeral, actually. As if she just couldn't bring herself to keep it up without him. Or maybe he'd been what was keeping her going at all. And he'd been very old.
The grave stones were strangely new. All the graves Neville visited at home had been softened a bit by the elements already, if only because he'd planted blooming ivy for all the important ones. These stones were crisp, standing straight. Proud. Like some final success, or a thing done right.
That was when he saw the shade. She'd said they showed up sometimes. Not proper ghosts, not lingering souls. They were the place's memories, the cliff or the cottage holding onto a strong impression of the two that were buried there below those grave stones.
He knew it was a shade only because he was looking when she appeared. One moment, the beach below was bare, white sand luminous in the moonlight. The next, there was a woman walking along the edge of the water. Barefoot. Her feet would've been cold from the wet sand if she'd been a live person.
There, following dutifully behind, was the man. He was tall, thin, imposing even from Neville's vantage. He caught the woman-shade up slowly, only getting close enough to wrap a spare cloak around her shoulders just before they reached the curve in the cliff face when they'd be out of sight. Neville stepped forward after watching him wrap the cloak around her, but they'd vanished.
He saw them again two nights later. First, he saw Gabrielle. She was in the greenhouse meticulously pruning and harvesting, hands quick and sure. Just like they'd been in class when they were children together.
Neville sat down hard on the bench by the door, the one covered in dirt and sticky with sap because it was more a place for tossing gloves or aprons and not sitting.
Hermione Granger. After the war, the last he'd seen her before she'd disappeared, she'd looked a bit like that shade in the moonlight. Pale, thin, wispy. But the shade was pale and thin and wispy because it wasn't alive; it was the memory of her in the place. She must've been as tanned as Anastasia to look like that in the moonlight.
Half dreading it, Neville had gone down to the potions lab after the Hermione-shade had dissipated. Sure enough, Severus Snape was there stirring a phantom potion with an invisible spoon. He was limned in silver, and it occurred to Neville that his hair had probably gone white. Hermione's probably had, too.
His had, after all.
There was a memorial for the two of them back in London. The Missing, it was called. Officially, it was for everybody who had gone missing during the war, never to be seen after. A lot of Muggle-borns had been part of the missing. It was a tribute to Hermione Granger and Severus Snape, though. They'd been heroes, and they'd lived through the war, but they hadn't survived it.
Or maybe they had.